Instaurator of Espressology talks to BeanScene about daggy coffee making, the impact of the World Barista Championship, and the country’s respect for locally roasted produce.
When Instaurator first started his journey in the Australian coffee industry in 1981, tea had been a more highly consumed beverage than coffee until two years prior. It progressed to a 50-50 split, and now, the situation is reversed, with tea representing just 5 per cent of Australia’s beverage market in many cafés – or around 1 per cent if you remove chai from the mix, according to Instaurator.
“Back in the day, it wasn’t just Twinings on the menu, it was Taylors of Harrogate and Melrose of Edinburgh, and around 15 different types of imported tea. That was a standard tea offering in a coffee shop. Coffee was served instant, and Italian imported coffee reigned supreme,” Instaurator says.
Vittoria Coffee was one of the main brands to start a national presence of coffee roasting, which found its way into the supermarket channel. Then there were labels that roasted for the Italian community, but still, roasted coffee represented just 5 per cent of the market and mainly revolved around instant consumption. Roasted beans were considered “niche”.
“I still remember people serving instant coffee out of big bulk percolators, especially in the outback. Then the 80s happened and the wedding gift of choice was a drip filter – Breville offered a 12-cup and a 15-cup. That later got replaced by plungers as we became a bit more sophisticated, all the while fuelling the growth of coffee in the market,” Instaurator says.
“Then, all of a sudden, it became socially embarrassing and daggy to serve plunger coffee at home. We brought in stove top espresso machines like Bialetti, which became cool, and in the meantime, cafés were in a period of transition. In the 90s, it was common to order pre-ground coffee, and that was a nightmare to prepare. If a café used whole beans they’d have to get a technician to come in and adjust the grinder constantly. Thankfully, skill level has increased and that drove consumption up and made the café culture more competitive.”
But what continued to struggle, Instaurator says, was the perception that Australian roasted coffee could be anyway near the standard of imported products.
“I distinctly remember going into cafés and even offices using imported coffee thinking, ‘there’s no way of introducing Australian roasted coffee’. Even when I started roasting there was real pushback in the market. I would tell people our coffee was fresh, roasted yesterday, and they would say: ‘‘well, you can’t be better than Italy.’ Now, I would argue, that’s completely reversed,” Instaurator says.
One of the biggest catalysts for change in terms of Australia’s appreciation for good quality coffee, Instaurator says, is the World Barista Championship (WBC), which made its mark in 2000. Baristas would go to the international competition and come back realising that Australian coffee wasn’t quite where it needed to be. He credits David Makin of Axil Coffee and Paul Bassett of Bassett Espresso as two guys who saw this need for improvement firsthand.
“I went to the first WBC in Monte Carlo and met George [Sabados], Australia’s first barista competitor at Sydney International Airport. We checked in at the counter and noticed this new coffee shop near the department lounge called Grinders. I’ll never forget it. I had a beautiful, old-school, rich Italian espresso. I could see all the airline staff making a bee-line for the shop. It put Grinders on the map in Sydney. It wasn’t internationally roasted coffee. It was Australian roasted, and it turned out to be the best coffee I had that entire trip – a coffee from the airport,” Instaurator says.
“When we got to Paris airport on a layover, I thought, ‘I’m bound to get a good coffee here’, but it was worse than instant. Then I got to Côte d’Azur on the Mediterranean coast of France and thought I’d get a good coffee there, but no. It was awful too. Even when we got to Monte Carlo itself all the coffee was Italian roasted thanks to its geographic location.”
When George was preparing his coffee for the WBC, three Italian businessmen came up to him wanting a coffee. He served them espresso. The men asked where the coffee was from and George told them it was roasted in Australia. They asked again, “no really, where’s it from?” They refused to believe it was Australian roasted. To them, coffee only came from Italy.
Instaurator says the competition allowed Australian baristas to appreciate what they didn’t know about coffee, such as how to do a professional coffee tasting, and gave them the motivation to learn more. He says those who have gone through the experience and explored the variables of roasting, discovered new flavours, and applied it to their own venues, such as Paul Bassett, Dave Makin, and Sasa Sestic of Ona Coffee, have vastly contributed to the growth of the Australian market.
“Each are competitive and confident individuals. They know what they’re talking about and their knowledge is imprinted in their businesses,” Instaurator says.
“Thanks to these guys and countless others, Australian baristas have gone out into the market, bursting with talent, and have set the pace. Then we have the second tier of roaster trainers like Anne Cooper who is helping push the quality of roasting, so there’s a constant flow of healthy talent that’s continuing to help represent Australia as a quality coffee nation. We’re front runners, and certainly no longer on the backfoot when it comes to roasting.”
Instaurator credits the 2000s as a significant decade of growth for Australian roasters. Single Origin, Toby’s Estate and Campos all started at this time in Sydney, as did his own business, Espressology, in 2008. The company offers contract roasting opportunities and private label services, and works closely with industry professionals to help identify goals and deliver it to market.
Thirty years ago, the mere thought of operating a locally roasted business would have been easily dismissed, but now, Instaurator sees a market of thriving cafés and roasters who pride themselves on offering customers a locally-roasted product, delivered straight to their door.
“What we’ve seen in the year of COVID, is café operators keen to have a crack at starting their own business or growing their existing business without being so hands on, and that’s where Espressology can help. It’s an exciting time to be in coffee and an exciting time to be a business that can cater to the needs of our thriving market,” Instaurator says.
What’s also developed is consumer preference, which has come a long way since the days of picking up a tea bag over a cup of instant coffee.
“The Australian coffee market has certainly evolved, but it’s still interesting to remember that specialty coffee is only 20 per cent of our market. The other 80 per cent are blending coffees,” Instaurator says.
“But what’s interesting about our market, is that it’s buoyant and focused on quality. Coffee is not one-dimensional. Good coffee is lively, stimulating and interesting – and Australian coffee consumers embrace that. They are much more discerning and the fact that they appreciate a locally roasted product now, is what stands out to me. We’ve come a long way.”
For more information on how Espressology can help achieve your roasting goals, visit espressology.com
This article appears in the February 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.